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January 31, 2000

BUDGET 1999-2000

Desi dream run or drubbing Down Under, advertisers swear by cricket

Kanchana Suggu and Aparajita Saha in Bombay

Sachin Tendulkar in an Adidas advertisement Yesterday, as Australia hammered down at Perth the last nail on the cricketing coffin containing the remains of the hopes of the Indian eleven (sixteen, if you will), the game's aficionados (read television viewers-cum-consumers) in the subcontinent heaved a collective sigh of relief. At last, the agony of watching their idols lose day in and night out has ended, the selfsame idols who endorse on television and other mass media a zillion products and services, some of which are claimed to be the secrets behind their success (?), performance, energy, power, personality, whatever.

Official figures are not yet available, but it is widely believed that the number of cricket viewers for the series Down Under declined compared to other recent series (some of which saw a healthier success quotient of India). Viewership shrank due as much to the waning interest triggered by a string of defeats as the cable operators' boycott of the sports channel ESPN-Star Sports.

Email this report to a friend There was no Indian thunder Down Under, so was hitching the advertisers' bandwagon to cricket a blunder? Has the time come for the manufacturing and services sectors to rip cricket-related ad concepts asunder? Do the staggering signing amounts demanded by cricketers make sense? Are the advertisers getting the investment-return equation right? Would multi-national corporates like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Levers, Britannia, Visa, to name just a few, want their products to be endorsed by cricketers who are being increasingly branded as a bunch of losers / non-fighters?

Javagal Srinath in a Coke ad MNCs are not unduly perturbed by such questions. Dream runs or drubbings, it seems, do not matter because the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor is at work. Deepak Jolly, director, external communications, Pepsi, says, "Cricketers are merely the communicators of a particular idea. We are not doing celebrity endorsement per se. There could be ups and downs in their careers, but our company has always stood strong because we are very clear about what we want to portray. We are a 90-year-old company whose reputation will not be challenged by ups and downs in players' careers. Thus their performance has never really affected us because in our advertising we only put forth a strong idea."

The success of a product is not a function of the success of the Indian cricket team, says Rupam Ganguly, marketing manager of the foods and dairy major Britannia. "Cricketers are just one aspect of the product. The other aspects would be the price, quality, packaging, etc. Besides, every sport is characterised by ups and downs, and any company that considers itself affected by the bad performance of a particular series is either thinking short-term or does not have a solid base for the product in question."

Then why do companies chase cricketers to sign them on as if they could make or break a product? "It all began with the advent of television. One-day cricket turned the players into celebrities overnight. Each one of them is a brand now -- to be marketed and packaged. Also, parents would like their children to have cricket personalities as role models as the latter symbolise fitness, discipline and success through hard work," says Ganguly.

Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja, currently out of the Indian team, in a Pepsi ad What about the views that investing in cricket is laden with risk and movie stars make safer models? "Nonsense," says Ganguly. "Performances can be good or bad, what matters is the respect and admiration the cricketers command. As long as cricket is popular, investment in cricketers is bound to continue. As for film stars, they stand for a lifestyle that is perceived to be on the fast track, which is not something we want to associate with the image of Britannia. And, like cricketers, film stars have their own share of ups and downs."

Film star Shahrukh Khan and cricket star Azharuddin in a Pepsi ad "Cricketers are more professional to deal with," adds Navonil Roy, account director, brand planning, Chaitra Leo Burnett, a leading ad agency.

"Why talk of only advertisers? The media in India can't have enough of cricket. Just ponder on the number of cover stories politics-centric national newsmagazines have devoted to cricket in recent times. Two years back, this was inconceivable. Cricket has become a national obsession. Wins or losses, especially losses, remain in memory for a short while. One big win will kickstart the dipping interest country-wide. Nothing else sells like cricket," says a media analyst.

Companies do not seem to be concerned at all by bad performances, the main reason being that advertisers are only trying to "match elements of the players personalities with their products". "The cricketer does not get bigger that the product itself," says Pepsi's Jolly. "In our case, it has always been that whoever the celebrity, it's our slogans like 'Yeh Dil Maange More' and 'Nothing Official About It' that really catch the fancy of consumers."

Some companies sign on not just one cricketer but at least three or four so that if one of them performs badly, there are still others to keep the brand name intact.

Cricket-related ad budgets know no boundaries? "We normally sign on cricketers for a fixed sum of money. So if there is a dip in the popularity of one person, then there is always another one. Most companies find it better to recruit cricketers in the early stage of their careers as brand ambassadors because usually that is the time they are in good form. As for their performances affecting sponsors' fortunes, I guess everyone has to take this gamble. One thing that can really have a bad impact on the company is if the model in our advertisement is publicly disgraced. Sports always signify positive energy. So sports-related advertisements are always taken very positively by the people," says Pepsi's Jolly.

Click for a bigger image. Rahul Dravid promotes Thomson television sets There is no indicator or index for measuring the 'returns' on 'investments' on sportspersons. Is there any pressure on the stars to perform from the companies themselves? No, says Britannia's Ganguly. "But they do face pressure from other sides."

Have investments in sports-related promotions reached a saturation point in India? Ganguly claims the era of investment in sports is just beginning. Now it is mainly limited to cricket and tennis but soon it will spread to other disciplines, giving sports the financial boost it needs, he adds.

From The Rediff Archives

'Marketers like what consumers like. And consumers like cricket'

Brand Storm in a World Cup



External link

World Cup reaches big audience and makes profit: Reuters

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